Competence as an Executive CoachWe all have our own lists of books and articles that have been especially helpful in developing a point of view on one professional topic or another. For me, the issues involved in executive coaching have been most clearly and succinctly covered in an article Steven Berglas, a clinical psychologist and, for some years now, an executive coach, published in the June 2002 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
"The Very Real Dangers of Executive Coaching" discusses three especially significant pitfalls a company faces when hiring an executive coach for a manager who presents problems in need of fixing.
Pitfall #1 is insisting on a quick fix. Authentic, long-term change in a manager's destructive and/or self-destructive behaviors generally requires considerable effort and introspection to identify inner conflicts that are producing dysfunctional behavior. Imagining that a coach can parachute in and turn problem behaviors around in a wonderfully brief period of time is very often wishful thinking and can in fact worsen the situation.
Pitfall #2 is assuming that changing behavior will solve the problems. All too often, taking a behavioral approach means addressing symptoms rather than underlying causes. As indicated above, what is generally needed is careful consideration of the particular individual's psychological situation, and then devising approaches to correcting the root causes of problem behaviors.
Pitfall #3 is failing to recognize when a coach is abusing his/her power over the client and the client's organization. Berglas describes an example from his own experience in which a coach was allowed to play a major role in deciding on promotions at a company, but made his recommendations exclusively on the basis of personality profiling, rather than a more comprehensive evaluation of candidates' suitability for advancement.
Berglas concludes his article with a commonsense recommendation that those seeking the services of an executive coach pay close attention to hiring a genuine expert, which means a professional with expertise in psychological evaluation and interpersonal dynamics. He also emphasizes that some people, such as depressed individuals and narcissists, are not psychologically prepared or predisposed to benefit from executive coaching, which is aimed at closing skills gaps, not at correcting psychological problems.